Mobility as an adaptation response in Isiolo County, Kenya: Gendering the debate

4 Jul 2016 - 11:00

By Nitya Rao

Isiolo county in Kenya largely comprises semi-arid and arid rangelands which are subject to increased degradation of pastures, climate variability – particularly in rainfall patterns, and with consequent water scarcity – and growing conflict due to changing pressures on land and land use. While pastoralism, dominated by large herds of camels and drought-resilient small stock of goats and sheep, still remains an important source of livelihood, one finds a growing movement of people to urban and peri-urban locations. This movement is a response to the difficulties of finding water and pasture for livestock, but equally a reflection of changing aspirations and needs, particularly amongst the youth.

The paper I presented at Adaptation Futures, based on preliminary data collected from two sites in Isiolo county (one rural and one peri-urban), seeks to better understand the implications of current mobility patterns on livelihood security and wellbeing, as well as gender and generational relations. Interestingly, local adaptation responses, including the move from pastoral to sedentarised lifestyles, have brought to the fore two key changes in the social domain: a) women’s growing engagement in a range of businesses as well as wage-work to ensure enough food for survival; and b) a breakdown of reciprocal gender relations, with male inability to take on provider roles leading to both delayed marriages and increased divorce.

During my session, there were great discussions on issues of scale, especially in light of the need to take account of natural, socio-economic and institutional contexts when planning and implementing adaptation responses. By highlighting the temporal and spatial complexity of mobility patterns and their gendered nature, the research provides opportunities for critical reflection and learning lessons in the process of policy planning. It emphasises that households are not unitary entities. Rather, their diversity and variations in strategies need to be taken into account in order to move towards ensuring community wellbeing.


Photo by Daniel McGahey